William P. Moseley (ca. 1819 or 1820–1890)


William P. Moseley, a Black Republican from Goochland County, was a member of the Convention of 1867–1868 and of the Senate of Virginia (1869–1871). Born into slavery, Moseley likely operated a boat on the James River before the American Civil War (1861–1865). He was free by 1857, when he married the recently freed daughter of a nearby planter. After the war he lived in Richmond while buying land in Goochland and Fluvanna counties and becoming involved in local and state politics. He held an important committee post at the Convention of 1867–1868 and voted for all of the new constitution’s most important reforms. In 1869, he easily defeated the white Conservative Party candidate for a seat in the Senate of Virginia, where he offered an unsuccessful bill to prohibit racial segregation in the state’s new public schools. After serving one term, Moseley remained active in party politics but did not run again for public office. He farmed, owned land in several counties, and acquired a brick house in Richmond. He died in 1890.

Early Years

The Falls of the James River

Moseley was born into slavery in Goochland County about 1819 or 1820. Family tradition does not preserve the names of his parents. According to that tradition, he belonged to a member of the Haden family and his owner allowed or enabled him to operate a boat on the James River before the Civil War. The absence of Moseley’s name from census returns, from the Goochland County Free Negro Register, and from almost all other local records suggests that he did not constantly reside in the county, but a boatman probably would have resided on his boat. Moseley was free by 1857 when he married Martha Catherine Turpin, the recently freed daughter of a white planter, Edwin Turpin, and his enslaved woman Mary James. They had at least seven sons and six daughters by 1880. Her brother Henry Turpin served in the House of Delegates.

Confederate Currency

While Moseley apparently operated his boat on the James River, his wife and children resided with her father and siblings. In November 1863 when Moseley purchased three lots in the town of Columbia in Fluvanna County on the western border of Goochland County for $3,000—probably in depreciated Confederate currency—the deed identified him as a resident of the city of Richmond. The purchase demonstrates that Moseley had been successful in his business. He attended a convention of African Americans in Alexandria in August 1865 as a delegate from Goochland County. In October 1866, however, when he purchased part interest in 4.78 acres of land in Henrico County just east of the city boundary, the deed identified him as still a Richmond resident. Moseley returned to Goochland County soon thereafter. In March 1867 the county agent of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands placed Moseley’s name first in a list of six of the most-influential African Americans in the county. A writer for the National Anti-Slavery Standard described Moseley in 1869 as “a large, benevolent-looking” man with “iron-grey whiskers” and reported that he was educated but “makes no display of his intelligence.”

Political Career

The State Convention At Richmond

On October 22, 1867, Moseley received 75 percent of all the votes cast in Goochland County to win election over two white candidates to represent the county in the convention that met in Richmond from December 3, 1867, through April 17, 1868, to write a new state constitution. All of Moseley’s 1,284 votes came from African Americans. The president of the convention appointed Moseley to the very important Committee on the Elective Franchise and Qualifications for Office but subsequently reassigned him to the Committee on Military Affairs. Moseley voted for almost all the important reforms the convention adopted, including suffrage and full equal rights for African Americans, disfranchisement of most former Confederates, and creation of the state’s first system of free public schools.

The Fifteenth Amendment. Celebrated May 19th 1870.

In July 1869, when voters ratified the constitution and stripped disfranchisement of former Confederates out of it, Moseley easily defeated a white Conservative Party candidate 3,252 to 2,388 to represent the counties of Fluvanna, Goochland, and Powhatan in the Senate of Virginia. Unfriendly newspaper reports described him as a radical, and he was appointed to the lowest-ranking seat on the Committee on Banks. During the first short session of the assembly in October 1869, he missed the vote to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment but voted later in the same day to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as Congress required before it admitted senators and representatives from Virginia to their seats. On June 7, 1870, Moseley offered an amendment to the public school bill to prohibit racial segregation, but it failed to pass. He did not vote when the bill requiring segregated schools passed and subsequently presented a protest that the senate refused to publish in the printed journal. However radical Moseley was on matters relating to African Americans and their rights, he nevertheless joined most of the other African American members of the assembly and a majority of white members in voting for the Funding Act of 1871 that refinanced the antebellum state debt, which became one of the most controversial acts of that assembly.

Henry Turpin

The new constitution set senators’ terms of office at four years but provided that half the senators elected in 1869 serve two-year terms in order that thereafter half the senators be elected every second year. Moseley’s district was one of the two-year term districts. He evidently did not seek the nomination in 1871 after senatorial districts had been reconfigured to place Goochland County in a district with Powhatan and Chesterfield counties. Instead, he sought the Republican Party nomination for the Goochland County seat in the House of Delegates, but in what appears to be a compromise between factions of the party, his brother-in-law Henry Turpin received the nomination.

Moseley was active in Republican Party politics throughout the 1870s and served on the resolutions committee of the 1870 state convention. A meeting of African Americans in Richmond in April 1872 elected him and seven other men to represent the state at a national convention of African Americans. In 1873 Moseley sought the Republican nomination for state senate, but in October announced that he would run as an independent Republican. He indicated, however, that if a Conservative candidate entered the race he would withdraw so as not to split the Republican ticket, which he evidently did since another Republican was elected. Moseley was a delegate to state conventions of African Americans in April 1875 and August 1875. He announced his availability for the Republican Party nomination for the House of Representatives in 1880, but John Paul, a Readjuster, ran with Republican support and won.

Later Years

When Moseley was a member of the Convention of 1867–1868, he had been described as a farmer, rather than as a boatman. In addition to the three town lots in Columbia and the property in Henrico County, he then owned only four head of taxable livestock in Goochland County. Following his father-in-law’s death in 1868, Moseley and his wife purchased three tracts of land from the estate with him as trustee for her and their children. The property in the western part of Goochland County encompassed almost five hundred acres of land and had a taxable value when they finished paying off the note in 1883 of almost $1,800. To keep up the payments, Moseley borrowed money from two of his brothers-in-law. He had to sell a brick house in Richmond he had acquired through his wife and in-laws, as well as the three town lots in Columbia. He was not able to collect the money for the three lots, however, and initiated a lawsuit in 1876 that his children continued prosecuting until it was settled in 1901. Moseley and his family apparently resided on the Turpin family property in Goochland County, but Moseley family tradition indicates that he lived in the Haden family’s former house. Following Moseley’s death, creditors of Edwin Turpin’s estate successfully sued to have the land sold. Moseley’s wife died on January 24, 1890, and William P. Moseley died at his home in Goochland County on August 17, 1890. The place of his burial is not known.

ca. 1819 or 1820
William P. Moseley is born into slavery in Goochland County.
William P. Moseley and Martha Catherine Turpin marry. They are both free African Americans. They will have at least thirteen children.
November 1863
William P. Moseley purchases three lots in Columbia, Fluvanna County, for $3,000.
August 1865
William P. Moseley represents Goochland County at a convention of African Americans in Alexandria.
October 1866
William P. Moseley purchases part interest in 4.78 acres of land in Henrico County.
March 1867
The Freedmen's Bureau names William P. Moseley one of the six most-influential African Americans in Goochland County.
October 22, 1867
William P. Moseley wins election to represent Goochland County in the Convention of 1867—1868.
July 1869
William P. Moseley, a black Republican, defeats the white Conservative Party candidate for election to the Senate of Virginia.
June 7, 1870
William P. Moseley offers an amendment in the Senate of Virginia to prohibit racial segregation in public schools.
April 1872
A meeting of African Americans in Richmond elects William P. Moseley and seven others to represent Virginia at a national convention.
April 1875
William P. Moseley serves as a delegate to a state convention of African Americans.
August 1875
William P. Moseley serves as a delegate to a state convention of African Americans.
January 24, 1890
Martha Turpin Moseley, the wife of William P. Moseley, dies at her home in Goochland County.
August 17, 1890
William P. Moseley dies at his home in Goochland County.
  • Jackson, Luther Porter. Negro Office-Holders in Virginia, 1865–1895. Norfolk, Virginia: Guide Quality Press, 1945.
  • Lowe, Richard G. “Virginia’s Reconstruction Convention: General Schofield Rates the Delegates.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 80, no. 3, part 1 (July 1972): 341–360.
APA Citation:
Tarter, Brent & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. William P. Moseley (ca. 1819 or 1820–1890). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/moseley-william-p-ca-1819-or-1820-1890.
MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "William P. Moseley (ca. 1819 or 1820–1890)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 19 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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